Remember the year Rich Aurilia became relevant?
That would be 2001, when Aurilia, a 170-pound shortstop, hit .324 with 37 home runs and 97 RBIs, became an All-Star and got MVP votes. It just so happened Aurilia batted in front of a guy named Barry Bonds, who, it just so happened, hit, um, 73 home runs.
Since we're on the topic of how Albert Pujols can make the other Angels hitters better, this is a good time to visit the topic of Howie Kendrick, who might be the perfect candidate to hit in front of the Angels' new Machine.
Kendrick already broke out, kind of, last season, recording career highs in home runs (18), runs (86), slugging percentage (.464) and making his first All-Star team. He has yet to live up to the expectations that all those .360-hitting seasons in the minor leagues suggested, however.
Could this be the year his talent finally arrives and stays? Kendrick is a good fastball hitter who has struggled his whole career recognizing and laying off sliders and other off-speed stuff. With pitchers scared of putting on runners for Pujols, Kendrick figures to see more fastballs than ever. More, certainly, than he saw when 37-year old Bobby Abreu was hitting behind him.
"You don't want to get behind with a lot of breaking stuff. I think pitchers are going to have to be very, very aggressive against the No. 2 hitter in that lineup," said one veteran scout, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Kendrick has a short, compact stroke and uses the whole field. I think he'll feel less pressure to drive the ball for power than he did before. The pressure will be to get on base and in scoring position. The way he uses the whole field, I think he's going to benefit by seeing a lot of fastballs."
Given the lack of off-speed pitches, Kendrick might run into more home runs without much trying. So, just for fun, here's one projection of how Kendrick might perform in his year 28 season, typically the very prime of a player's career: .315 batting average, 21 home runs, 84 RBIs, 105 runs, .366 OBP, .475 slugging percentage.
That would get him some MVP votes, probably an All-Star berth and a mention from the next person writing about Rich Aurilia. It would also give the Angels a nice launching pad for their fancy new toy.